Friday, August 19, 2016

A Tale of Two Athletes


I know I'll take heat from some friends, but if I can get just one person to stop and THINK, then it'll be worth it.
At the beginning of the Olympics, there was a lot of buzz about Ryan Lochte's new hair color -- light blue, according to Ryan -- and though he took some ribbing about it looking prematurely gray, it was understood that it was all in fun. Even when his hair started to turn green -- Ryan, didn’t you know that bleached hair and pool chemicals are not a good combo? -- any commentary was of the good-natured sort.
And then came the commentary on Gabby Douglas’s hair. And the commentary was decidedly NOT of the good-natured sort. She was relentlessly mocked, by a bunch of people who apparently have never broken a sweat doing anything their entire lives, let alone sweating while earning gold for gymnastics team and country. Gabby tearfully admitted that the criticism -- of not only her ‘do, but of her standing at attention without her hand over her heart at the playing of the National Anthem and of her failure to outwardly show what others deemed the “proper” amount of enthusiasm for teammates competing in the individual events -- had hurt her deeply. I read one columnist’s appeal for folks to lighten up, saying, “She’s just a kid, after all,” and what followed was a hailstorm of comments pointing out that, at 20 years old, she was no longer a kid, and that when a person chooses to live their life in the spotlight, occasionally getting bullied just comes with the territory.
But then came the revelation that Ryan Lochte’s horrifying account of having been held up at gunpoint was a total fabrication, a lie he’d told his mother to conceal having to pay for an act of vandalism after a night of clubbing and drinking. The US Olympic Committee has issued an apology to Brazil; Ryan Lochte himself has issued something of an apology, and there’s been a lot of debate as to how we’re supposed to be thinking of the whole incident, with a whole bunch of very vocal people asserting that Lochte’s “... just a kid ...” who came “to have fun” and deserves “a break.” I’ve heard this over and over again.
Ryan Lochte just turned 32 this month.
Just mull that over for a few seconds. There are so many inconsistencies I can’t possibly name them all. A 20-year-old who’s supposed to suck it up and ignore harsh criticisms of how she looks in competition and while sitting in the stands, vs. a 32-year-old who’s supposed to be given a break for a lie that brought embarrassment to an entire nation, and then, when the lie was discovered, brought embarrassment to an entirely different nation. Just mull that over.
Is it any wonder that women complain of being subjected to a greater level of criticism and scrutiny than men?
Look at this whole thing another way: Though there was talk about Ryan Lochte’s hair, how much of it constituted criticism? What would you have said about Ryan Lochte not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem? (Would you have jumped on him for clowning around during the Anthem at the awards ceremony?) Would you have even paid any attention to the look on Ryan Lochte’s face during a teammate’s swim? And perhaps most telling of all, how would you have reacted if Gabby Douglas and a couple of her gymnastics teammates had been out clubbing and drinking until 5:30am, period? Let alone vandalizing private property afterward. Let alone telling a whopper of a lie that got police and the IOC involved! How do you feel -- truly, how do you feel -- when the contexts of these two athletes’ stories are completely reversed?
Postscript:
I’m not judging Ryan Lochte for lying to his mom. Heck, I lied to mine a few times! None of my lies ever had the potential to get blown up to Lochte proportions, so there’s really no telling what I would have done in his shoes. Would I have told the lie to a major network’s news anchor? Would I have doggedly stuck to my story even though it was causing an international incident? Hey, maybe; I was a little scared of my parents, too. (For the record: I’m not a very good liar, and learned this early on in my relationship with my mom, so my lies to her were indeed few. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, my parents would likely have led the parade of angry critics if I’d ever been caught in a lie of such epic proportions.)
I’m certainly not judging Gabby Douglas for any of her “transgressions,” either. I’ve gone out in public with my hair looking completely unkempt, and unlike her have absolutely no excuse except pure-out laziness. I always stand at attention, though not always with my hand over my heart, at the National Anthem; I didn’t even realize that was a big deal, until someone thought it was a big enough deal to criticize Gabby Douglas for it. And hey, Gabby: smiling is not my default facial expression, either. I’ve been criticized for that one hundreds of times, though never, ever, nevereverever to the degree to which you’ve been criticized.